Monday, April 11, 2011

The Hand That Kills

It's been a while since I did a post like this, but I've been meaning to write about this one for some time, as I often think to myself when I make a significant change in my poker tournament strategy generally, or any of the specific things I do in my tournament play to try to be as successful as possible.

Basically, I like to think that I can play pretty much any hand profitably in the right situation. Whatever hand people tell you to always fold from early position, I play it from early position from time to time. When people say you always raise with pocket Queens, you never limp from late position with pocket Aces, etc., I pretty much don't follow that rule. I mean, I do sometimes to be sure, but in general, I'm not a big fan of hard and fast rules in poker, at least when it comes to no-limit holdem, and especially when we're talking about preflop starting hand requirements, and generally what people do in nlh in small pots. I'm a firm believer in always being ready and willing to do the unexpected, and as a result there are almost zero starting hands worth mentioning that I will flat refuse to play under certain circumstances, even from early position.

That said, one hand has really been kicking my ass lately, and doing so in some kind of basic ways that have really got me making a change to a long-standing habit I have developed over the years in nlh tournaments. Yes, I am here today to talk about the dreaded King-Queen. Sooted or off. This is a hand that I've been playing pretty liberally for some time. Like, my whole poker-playing career. I simply treat it like all the other trouble hands out there, which means that I play it to try to hit something good, but I'm not going to lose a ton of chips with it unless I flop big to it. But I've always played KQ preflop, and frankly, I've done so generally from any position at the table, and never really given much thought to how things end up when I do.

Until this year. Along with my increased attention to my poker game in general and making the right decisions that will lead to tournament success in every game I play, I have also been making a concerted effort to try to locate other possible leaks in my game in general, and of course a big part of that is paying attention to whether certain hands or certain types of hands are causing me trouble when I decide to play them at all. And what I have found over the past few months of careful study of hand histories, screenshots and the like, is that when I am opening with KQ from anything resembling early position, I am simply not making a profitable play from a nlh tournament perspective. And it doesn't change if I raise or just limp preflop when I open -- if I am dealt KQ in an early position, and I do not fold it before the flop, I am losing more than I am making from that decision. It hurts me to admit that to myself -- as I said above, I like to think that I can play any hand profitably enough to see a flop and then trust myself to get away from it as needed.

But I just cannot play KQ profitably from early position. Although in a given hand here or there I can make money with it of course, in general I just do not play KQ from an early position to a profit in no-limit holdem tournaments. Strangely -- or perhaps not so much -- in limit holdem I seem to do fine with KQ, which is probably a better hand in limit than in no-limit due to the risky nature of the hand, but in nlh tournaments, KQ has officially been downgraded in my arsenal of starting hands to play, to the point that I have not been playing it from early or even early-middle position over the past couple of months, and I am generally the better off for it. Sure, when I get three callers of my preflop raise and then the flop comes down TJA, I am always glad to be in there and will surely make some nice coin. But for the myriad times when the flop comes raggy, or with a medium pair on the board, or even the most dangerous when a King or a Queen flops, I am simply finding myself losing more chips than I am winning when I'm getting in there before the flop with King-Queen.

So, no more KQ from early position for me. Bring on the 72o for sho. Just no KQ.

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Blogger jamyhawk said...

I agree and would put A10 in that same category.

12:53 AM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...


I'm assuming you're open folding KQ nowadays, instead of raising all positions. It's not entirely clear from the post, but this is what I gather.

KQ for me is a tough hand to play, particularly out of position - no different than JJ, QJs or JTs (I open fold QJo or JTo, but raise the former), IMO. KQ is a likely fold when facing a raise - PARTICULARLY out of position.

However, I'm not ready to give up on KQ. In fact, I favor open raising KQ from early positions over raising 22-55 from EPs. My thought is that 22-55 is going to be scared of all manner of flops, and going to be c/folding (or b/folding) most flops because 22-55 won't flop strong without setting. On the other hand, KQ will flop the second strongest 1-pair hand (bested by AQ, AK and obviously AA, KK, QQ).

5 hands types are dominating KQ - all others are coin flips. Perhaps you should reconsider tossing KQ & look at the situations you're getting into with that hand: are you getting setted on more frequently with KQ than other hands? Are you getting 2 paired? In other words, if you were holding AQ, AK instead of KQ when you flopped your top/good, would the results have been the same?

My point is this: perhaps it's not so much KQ's fault that you're getting stacked with it, but maybe you're unlucky with KQ -or- maybe you're playing too big of a pot with it. I've read your blog for a long time, as you have mine; I know you know how to play. I know you know that big hand = big pot, little hand = little pot. KQ is neither; KQ is a medium pot hand. If you're getting stacks in with KQ, you're either up against a donkey or your likely dominated. And if you're getting sucked out, then it doesn't make a difference how you played the hand with whatever cards you held...

12:59 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

To clarify, I'll still open raise with KQo or KQs if I am closer to the button than utg, pretty much every time. The way I play, I'm always looking to get it in in a good spot with a preflop raise. But if I am in early position nowadays, it goes without saying that I fold KQ even to a preflop limp ahead of me and certainly to a raise, but I open-fold it as well from early position which is the bigger change from how I played this hand for a long time.

And Meister, it's not that I'm losing big pots with it. It's that I'm losing more than I'm winning with it, and I can definitely perceive that to be happening as I've been playing with some more attention to such things lately than I had been for a while. Just like you suggested in your comment, if the pot gets big then my TP2K is just not any good almost any of the time, and I do not seem to be winning enough of the easy top-pair or c-bet on the flop hands to justify playing a loser from early position like this.

I think KQ is quite possibly the only hand where I have to admit I do not derive a short-term or long-term profit from raising with it in early position. I can sit and raise 76s and 87s all day in early position and I feel like I am making a profit on it, at least over the long term because when I do it the 6th time and then flop that straight, I'm getting pizznaid and all those other raises all played into my getting that action where I did. But with KQ, I really don't see even the long-term profitability of open-raising with it from early position anymore, so I've stopped playing it entirely from EP for the most part.

7:41 PM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...

Just realize that in absolute hand strength in a 9-person game (i.e. Monte Carlo simulation for 9 people seeing random hands from PF to river), KQs is the 7th strongest starting hand. KQo is around the 20th strongest, FWIW.

Obviously, simulations like that mean nothing, because rarely are 9 people seeing a PF to river showdown. However, the absolute hand strength does indicate that it is a second-tier hand, grouped along side of JJ and TT.

Perhaps consider raising KQs, but tossing KQo - and sticking with a late raise strategy with either?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Jhon said...

i agree with hammer in KQ position...

7:25 PM  

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